• United States
IDG Enterprise Consulting Director

Collaboration turning into confusion?

Sep 22, 20033 mins
Collaboration SoftwareEnterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

As part of my duties as executive producer of the annual Vortex conference, I write a weekly newsletter best described as a rambling, semi-personal, semi-professional travelogue about the issues shaping the network industry. (Vortex Digest is free, and you can sign up here to take it out for a test ride.)

Last week’s digest really hit a nerve when I related a cautionary tale about so-called collaboration technology and raised the question of whether immediate communications and presence awareness will be a boon or a bane. We’re in a push- and ping-to-talk world of increasing mobility and, in the future, we’re always going to know where our friends and colleagues are and how to get in touch with them on a moment’s notice. I contend – and the following story attests – that we might actually be heading toward a productivity crash.

A friend who works for a major technology company has been sent, along with all his colleagues, to work from home in a cost-saving plan. My buddy is struggling to deal with his new work environment – whether to dress or not, where to set up shop in the house – and that’s natural.

What’s less natural is the mess that’s been created by instant messaging, which his company has widely embraced. What started as a cool tool for keeping in touch has become something of a nightmare to most workers, who are constantly pinged by nosy or boorish colleagues, or by managers trying to find out if they’re at their desks. Not only do the message pop-ups scramble concentration, they actually can mess up data input on, say, a spreadsheet. Co-workers share every thought that pops into their minds, and they ping each other with snide comments while listening to managers during conference calls. Shutting instant messaging off brings a reprimand from bosses.

Responses to the story covered the map. Some readers said the company was at fault for not setting instant-messaging usage policies. Others said my pal was at fault for not speaking up and demanding better instant-messaging practices, or that he needed to learn how to ignore unwanted messages. But many, many readers said the story provides a warning about the increasing intrusiveness of technology into our lives. Technology is developing faster than our skills to deal with it. We’re always on and always connected.

But are we always better off? Are we more productive, or simply busier dealing with more messages and more distractions? Share your thoughts with me.